Photo by Gina Roberti

One of the new generation of ambient composers, Patricia Wolf releases her third album ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ on Nite Hive, the experimental cassette imprint established by Penelope Trappes of THE GOLDEN FILTER for women and gender-expansive artists.

Patricia Wolf first became known as a member of acclaimed synth duo SOFT METALS. After the contrasting moods of her first two albums ‘I’ll Look For You In Others’ and ‘See-Through’, for ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’, she delves into her new found avian fascination which came from her nature field recordings which included the songs and calls of birds.

Patricia dives deep into her personal library of field recordings and birding experiences, writing songs that show the variety of emotions and wonders that birds bring. Using these field recordings and carefully crafted electronics, Wolf’s emotive instrumental compositions celebrate the avian world and the challenges these beautiful creatures face in the Anthropocene.

Presently an artist in residence at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado to learn about the interplay among species and how climate change is impacting those species, Patricia Wolf kindly answered a number of questions from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ and her wider conservation concerns.

‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ is like the soundtrack for an as-yet-unmade wildlife documentary, what inspired the concept?

It’s great that you picked up on the idea of an imaginary wildlife documentary. I did have that sort of mindset when the concept started taking shape. Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in learning about birds (and all wildlife), ecology, conservation, and ecological restoration. It all started when I began my field recording practice. I love listening to and recording the sounds of wildlife in their natural habitats, but at first I wasn’t able to identify most of what I was hearing.

I started to analyse my recordings with Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdNET and Merlin Bird ID apps. Once I was able to match the songs and calls to specific bird species I began studying their identifying features, behaviours, and habitat needs. My partner noticed that I was getting more and more interested in birds so he gave me a nice pair of binoculars. It was one of the best gifts that I’ve ever received! It opened up a whole new world to me. Once I could see birds in more detail and began to recognize specific species by their calls and songs I became a daily birdwatcher.

I’ve been collecting recordings of the birds that I hear on my walks and from my windows and thought it would be nice to do something with them. When Penelope invited me to make an album for Nite Hive, I saw it as a great opportunity to work on a project that expressed my love of birds. I also had recently finished working on my first soundtrack project for my friend Edward Pack Davee’s new film, ‘Hrafnamynd’ so I think being in the soundtracking mindset also influenced how this album came out. I really hope that I can evoke images of birds and nature when people listen to this work.

Photo by Gina Roberti

The album features field recordings of the birds but did you also film any to assist with your compositional process or did you rely on memory and passion?

I don’t have a telephoto lens for my camera which would enable me to get clear and crisp photos or videos of birds. Because they are often frightened of people, it’s difficult to get close enough to film them in detail without specialised equipment. Becoming a birder makes you a more detail oriented person because there can be subtle differences that you have to notice about a bird in order to identify them properly. You tend to remember brief observations well, too, after doing it for a while because sometimes a quick glimpse is all that you get. You learn what to look for so you can better confirm or deny a sighting. I’m sure that it’s great for one’s brain in terms of focus and memory. I guess you could say I rely on keen observation, memory, passion, books and field guides to make sure that I am correct about an observation. Those observations and learning experiences are what inspired the music on this album.

Compared with your most recent album ‘See-Through’ which was a soothing relaxed ambient work, ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ captures a wider range of emotions and feelings including some quite dark ones?

I think that this album is not too much of a departure from my first two albums in terms of how the music feels and sounds. The concept is referenced in the album and song titles and that surely influences what the listener is thinking about as they listen, but I wonder what the listener would imagine if the titles were referencing something more related to the human experience? Would they still think about birds or would they think about their relationships with humans and society or their internal thoughts and feelings?

With this album I wanted it to make something that is enjoyable and interesting to listen to from a musical standpoint, but nudge people into the world of birds and other animal species. Another aspect to this is that I strongly believe, as do many scientists (see: The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness), that animals are conscious and emotional beings. Knowing this, I feel so much sorrow with how they are treated by many humans. My hope is that through my music I might open people’s minds and hearts to be kinder and more compassionate towards other species and the habitats that they need to live the lives that they evolved to live. I hope that we can blur the lines that separate us and focus more on the connections. We are animals, too and we have common ancestors. We are all relatives.

Photo by Michael Yun

A case in point would be ‘Mourning the Varied Thrush That Struck a Window and Died’ which was about an incident which you discussed on your social media?

That song is about a personal experience that I had with a Varied Thrush, hitting a window at my house and dying shortly after. It was heartbreaking for me and the bird’s mate who called for him for a long time afterwards. I’d regularly see them together in my yard before that incident. Once I was able to compose myself after his death, I recorded his mate calling for him and used it in this track. Their song is a simple one note whistle. It’s pure and a bit haunting to me. Both males and females make a variety of sounds. It was heartbreaking to hear her call for him and get no response. It went on for quite some time and I know that the bird was anxious, sad, and worried about its partner and its future as single bird. They rely on one another and a lot goes into a pair deciding to be together.

I felt so ashamed that this happened and immediately purchased the Acopian Bird Savers Zen Curtains to make all of my windows visible to birds. Birds are intelligent beings, but they have different adaptations to us. They can see ultraviolet light, colours that we cannot see, but they cannot see glass. They see what is reflected in it – the plants, the sky, or they see a room in a building that looks like an interesting place to visit. They often fly full force into windows thinking that they are flying to a safe place, but instead strike the hard surface and suffer a serious or life ending injury.

I wanted to share this experience in my music as a way to bring attention to this serious problem. It’s estimated that about 1 billion birds die each year from window strikes in the United States alone. There’s been a 90% decrease in bird populations in the US since 1970 which is shocking and disturbing. We as a species need to do something to make our buildings safer for birds. I hope with this song I can bring some awareness to this problem and inspire more people to apply one of the many often simple solutions to this problem on the buildings that they have some control over.

Photo by Edward Pack Davee

‘I Don’t Want to Live in a World Without Birds’ is quite haunting, a strong message using music?

That song is one of my field recordings processed through the Nuetone AI plugin tool that can transform an input sound source into a violin expression. The motivation behind this was borne out of the depressing thought of a world in the future where most or all wildlife has gone extinct in the wild and all the human world is left with are archives and maybe some remaining species kept in zoos or private collections. The idea of birdsong and wildlife disappearing in the wild makes me incredibly sad. I think of people trying to fill in the gaps with artificial bird sounds or something else artificially designed to fill in the sonic space.

I don’t think this song quite demonstrates what that might sound like, but the idea of field recordings or AI renderings of imaginary birdsongs, or artists trying to make birdsong-like music to relax too in an artificial nature was on my mind when I experimented with this AI tool. I think this song sounds interesting and I enjoy listening to it, but I still live in a world where I can hear and see birds. If I were left with only recordings of birds or artificial versions of them how sad that would be, especially having the memory as a child of birdsong waking me up in the morning and noticing them around me at all times of the day.

‘The Secret Lives Of Birds’ title piece sets the scene for the album, was that the pivotal track in the process which allowed the other tracks to emerge or had you already sketched ideas based on each of the different birds species you wanted to feature?

I had already sketched out a few ideas for this album before that song was written. ‘Rufous Hummingbird Dive Display’ and ‘Golden-Crowned Sparrow’ were the first songs that I wrote for this album and the concept unfolded from there. ‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ was a playful exercise to try to write a birdsong-like phrase on my synthesizer. I like how it came out and it also serves as a sort of theme song for my imaginary bird documentary.

Photo by Max Wolf

‘Golden-Crowned Sparrow’ and ‘The Ptarmigan and the Gyrfalcon’ both have this serene quality, how would these have developed when recording and what particular instruments did you use?

‘Golden-Crowned Sparrow’ is centered around a field recording of that bird that I took just outside my kitchen window. I adore their song. There’s something so tender and sweet about it. I wanted to write a piece of music that reflected what that I feel when I hear them. They walk and fly upon the earth in a gentle and kind way. They are social birds usually seen in a flock of their species as well as other sparrow and finch species. They get along harmoniously with others. The synth I used for this song is the UDO Super 6. I was improvising on it while listening to the recording of the ‘Golden- Crowned Sparrow’ song.

‘The Ptarmigan and the Gyrfalcon’ was inspired by a bit of Icelandic folklore that I was told about while in Reykjavik last fall. According to the tale, the Ptarmigan (a bird in the grouse family) and the Gyrfalcon (a bird of prey) were siblings, but one day Odin’s wife Frigg summoned all the birds to meet and she demanded that they all show their fealty to her by walking through fire. All of the birds did this except the Ptarmigan which is the folk explanation to why they have feathers on their legs and feet and the other birds do not.

As a punishment to the Ptarmigan for not proving its loyalty, Frigg cursed her to be the most defenseless of birds and to be hunted for eternity. Even her brother the Gyrfalcon now hunted her and after he kills her and realizes that she is his sister and cries out in sorrow and regret. It’s a tragic story, but it really stuck with me. It illustrates the painful aspects of the web of life in a mystical kind of way. This song was made with the Super 6, Pro-800, and Peak. I wanted to create an atmosphere to set the stage for this tragedy to play out.

Do you have a favourite bird and therefore a favourite track on the collection?

I don’t have a favourite bird. I love them all! They are all so fascinating and unique in their own ways which is why it’s so interesting to learn about them. I don’t have a favorite track. I see the album as a unit and I think it makes the most sense when experienced that way.

‘The Secret Lives Of Birds’ is being released by Nite Hive which is the label of Penelope Trappes, your career progressions have followed similar paths having both first become known in synthpop duos, how did you come to connect with her?

Yes, we both used to be in synthpop type duos at around the same time. I was a fan of THE GOLDEN FILTER back then when I was in SOFT METALS. It’s really cool that we are now doing solo projects and have become friends. I first connected with her in 2022 when my first solo album came out. I remember she played one of my songs on a BBC radio show that she made a mix for. I was honored! I thanked her and we began to talk and I got more acquainted with her music and was blown away by it. We’ve been keeping in touch and cheering each other on as we go about our creative lives. This past fall while on tour in Europe, I got a chance to meet her in person. We spent a few days together in Brighton and we immediately felt like we’d known each other for such a long time. When she and Steph created Nite Hive, they invited me to be a part of it and I gladly said yes.

It’s interesting the connection between music and birds, Robert Dean who was best known for being in the band JAPAN and has more recently been occasionally producing ambient music, is now a leading ornithologist and illustrator in Costa Rica, is this something you would like to venture into in the future?

Yes, definitely! I am very much interested in biology and ecology and have been interested in getting involved in projects that restore areas to their natural state to support biodiversity. I think I will eventually go back to school to get proper credentials to do this work and will begin volunteering on projects where I can lend a hand in this area. I really hope that my music can draw people in to the secret lives of birds and inspire them to be more sensitive to their needs.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK give its warmest thanks to Patricia Wolf

‘The Secret Lives of Birds’ is released on cassette and digitally by Nite Hive on 28 June 2024, selected track previews and pre-order available on Bandcamp at

Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19 June 2024